Get to Know a Naturalist and Discover All Kinds of Nature

February 16, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve lived in Washington DC for 30 years, but I’m from Sandusky, Ohio and I know a lot about that area. Sandusky is located along the Lake Erie coast, in Erie County Ohio, making it home to many migrating birds in spring and fall. For me, this means good bird photography. In fact, there’s a few areas in Sandusky that are considered by the experts as birding Hot Spots. There's even a bird festival in the region during spring migration because the birding is that amazing. Before a recent trip to the area, I was researching birding areas in Erie County and surrounding locations. My research unexpectedly brought me across Martyn Drabik-Hamshare; who is a Naturalist with Erie MetroParks.  I like to say Martyn arrived in Ohio via England and South Africa -- he was born and raised in England and studied in both the UK and South Africa.  Not all of us know what a Naturalist is – in a few words -- Naturalists observe nature and communicate the importance of our natural resources using various programs and activities. Martyn does his work with the Erie MetroParks, which encompass 12 public parks, 30 miles of trails, and more than 300 free public programs each year. I’m excited to have Martyn on the podcast and hear about his experience and insights on all kinds of nature.


Below are the questions Martyn answered.  Listen to the podcast here.


  • You were born and raised in England, studied in both the UK and South Africa, and now you work in Sandusky, Ohio – a mid-size city that sits on Lake Erie and is probably best known as the home of Cedar Point -- an amusement park in operation for over 150 years that features a world-record 71 rides and world-record-setting roller coasters. Martyn, start us out by unraveling the interesting story of your worldwide study and travel and what brought you to northern Ohio.


  • What’s a day in the life of an Erie MetroParks Naturalist like?


  • Tell us about the most surprising thing (or things!) you’ve learned during your explorations or work in Erie County Ohio.


  • As you’ve certainly learned, we Americans love our bald eagle. On a recent episode of the Erie MetroParks podcast, “Off Trail”, you noted that there were 46 Bald Eagle nests in Erie County, as of the last census. How do you go about conducting a census of bald eagle nests?


  • The last time I was in the Sandusky area (Fall 2021), I made a trip up to Maumee Bay State Park (an Ohio state park) which was about an hour by car along the Lake Erie Bay shore from my location. On that drive, which was about 60 miles, I saw 14 adult bald eagles.I was really shocked and never remember seeing anything like that in that area before.What do you think contributes to that region being – apparently -- good habitat for bald eagles?


  • Ecologists often study and explain how human actions affect other living things and their environment. What kinds of activities that you’ve been involved in with Erie County MetroParks fit that description?


  • I’m pretty sure I would never have visited Pipe Creek Wildlife area in Sandusky (managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources) had I not seen some of your posts about the birds and other wildlife in that area. While I’m familiar with the part of Sandusky where Pipe Creek is located, I was never familiar with this area as a birding and wildlife area. North central Ohio is really a top birding destination. What are some of the other best places to see nature and wildlife in Erie County, and the surrounding areas?


  • Have you ever encountered any issues with wildlife crime (poaching, etc..) or was that ever discussed in your studies or job?


  • Do you have a favorite species?



Resources and Additional Information:

Conservation Photography – Would You Know if You're Photographing Threatened Species?

January 23, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I’m a photographer because I love and treasure nature. I understand it’s importance to the global health, survival, and well-being of our human species and the biodiversity of our planet. I’m committed to connecting others to the scenes, places, and moments I capture because they tell the story of what makes our places complete, what dwells among us, what’s relevant to our well-being, and what’s worthy of protecting. I also like creating beautiful things.



In 2020 I joined iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. On iNaturalist, I upload my photographs of species that are unique encounters for me, or species I recognize as unique or out of the ordinary for the location I’m visiting. iNaturalist is a massive online platform for recording and identifying observations of plant or animal species anywhere in the world. Users upload a photo or sound recording and propose an identification of what they’ve recorded, or they receive suggestions from community members. As of January 2022, iNaturalist contained over 88 million observations of over 340,000 species contributed by over 2 million observers world-wide -- and it just keeps growing.



You don’t need a professional camera to be in the iNaturalist community. iNaturalist allows anyone with a phone or camera and an Internet connection to upload and identify photos of plants and animals anywhere in the world. There are guidelines for using iNaturalist, and if you’re new to this platform, head over to their website and learn all about it. One of the goals of iNaturalist is to generate scientifically valuable biodiversity data from the personal encounters we have with the natural world. There’s been good progress on that goal as information gleaned from the platform has contributed to more than 1,400 studies. One of the most common research uses of iNaturalist data is the development of species distribution models.



Since joining in 2020, I’ve added 160 observations covering 118 species, primarily birds. One of the features of iNaturalist that adds incredible depth and significance to observations is the system may provide the conservation status (extinction or extirpation risk) of the species you identified. Let’s define extinct and extirpated before going further because these words will come up again. Extinct means the end of a species; when a species dies out completely its classified as extinct. Extirpated means a local extinction; when a species no longer exists in a particular area, but still exists elsewhere.



Of the 118 species photos I’ve contributed to iNaturalist, about 20 (mostly birds) have some type of imperiled conservation status association with them. In other words, these species were identified as extinct, extirpated, critically imperiled, imperiled or vulnerable in the regions I photographed them. That’s significant. It means that while you think you’re seeing just another cool hawk fly by, when you snap a picture and upload it into iNaturalist you may discover, and help others discover, a rarely seen and threatened species. These are valuable observations that can be used by scientists and researchers to support our understanding of species distribution and further species conservation research and intervention.



iNaturalist conservation status rankings derive from NatureServe and/or the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature’s) Red List. Established in 1964, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species and is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. NatureServe uses a suite of factors to assess the conservation status (extinction or extirpation risk) of species of plants, animals, and fungi, as well as the conservation status (elimination or extirpation risk) of ecosystems. Conservation status is summarized as a series of ranks (letter and number codes) from critically imperiled to secure, and these ranks may be derived at global, national, or sub-national levels.



Below I’ve summarized several of my iNaturalist wildlife observations that had some type of imperiled conservation status. Remember that conservation status codes may be location-dependent. In other words, a bird that’s doing well in Montana may be extirpated (locally extinct) in Ohio.




Snowy Owl

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status is IUCN Vulnerable. This means the best available evidence indicates that snowy owls are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.



Bald Eagle

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status is NatureServe S2N/SXB. This means (1) non-breeding bald eagle populations are Imperiled, or at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S2N), and (2) breeding populations of bald eagles are Presumed Extirpated (SXB). This means breeding age eagles are believed to be extirpated from the jurisdiction; not located despite intensive searches of historical sites and other appropriate habitat, and virtually no likelihood that it will be rediscovered. This is equivalent to “Regionally Extinct” in IUCN Red List terminology.





Location of photograph: North central Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe SX. This means Merlins are presumed extirpated, or locally extinct. The species is not located despite intensive searches of historical sites and other appropriate habitat, and virtually no likelihood that it will be rediscovered. Extirpated species become less resilient to environmental, ecological and biological changes, making them more susceptible to extinction.




Location of photograph: Northern Maryland

Conservation Status NatureServe S1N. This means non-breeding populations are critically imperiled, or at very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.




Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status NatureServe S1N. This means non-breeding populations are critically imperiled, or at very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Red-Shouldered Hawk

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status NatureServe S2B/S3N. This means (1) breeding age populations are imperiled or at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S2B), and (2) non-breeding populations are vulnerable or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3N).



Cooper’s Hawk

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status NatureServe S3N/SHB. This means (1) non-breeding Cooper’s Hawk populations are Vulnerable, or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3N), and (2) breeding age populations are possibly extirpated. They are known from only historical records but still some hope of rediscovery. There is evidence that the species or ecosystem may no longer be present in the jurisdiction, but not enough to state this with certainty (SHB). Examples of such evidence include (a) that a species has not been documented in approximately 20-40 years despite some searching and/or some evidence of significant habitat loss or degradation; (b) that a species or ecosystem has been searched for unsuccessfully, but not thoroughly enough to presume that it is no longer present in the jurisdiction.



American Coot

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status is NatureServe S3N - Vulnerable. This means non-breeding populations are at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.




Long-Tailed Duck (female pictured; conservation status applies to both males and females)

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status ICUN Vulnerable. This means the species has a very high risk of extinction as a result of rapid population declines of 30 to more than 50 percent over the previous 10 years (or three generations), a current population size of fewer than 1,000 individuals, or other factors.




Pie-billed Grebe

Location of photograph: Northern Virginia

Conservation Status NatureServe S1S2B/S3N. This means (1) breeding populations are imperiled to critically imperiled or at high to very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S1S2B), and (2) non-breeding populations are vulnerable or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3N).



Black-crowned Night Heron

Location of photograph: Northern Virginia

Conservation Status NatureServe S3B/S4N. This means (1) breeding populations are vulnerable or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3B), and (2) non-breeding populations are apparently secure, or at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S4N).



American Black Duck

Location of photograph: Northwestern Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe S2. This means all populations are imperiled, or are at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Black Scoter

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status ICUN Red List NT. This means the Black Scoter is a Near Threatened species, and does not yet qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.




Hooded Merganser

Location of photograph: Northwestern Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe S2. This means all populations are imperiled, or are at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Hooded Merganser

Location of photograph: Northern Maryland

Conservation Status NatureServe S1B. This means breeding populations are critically imperiled or are at very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Prothonotary Warbler

Location of photograph: Northwestern Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe S3. This means all populations are vulnerable, or are at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.




Pine Warbler

Location of photograph: Northeastern West Virginia

Conservation Status NatureServe S2N/S4B. This means non-breeding populations are imperiled, or at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S2N), and (2) breeding populations are apparently secure, or at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S4B).



Hermit Thrush

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status NatureServe S3S4B/S4N. This means (1) breeding populations range from vulnerable to apparently secure, where vulnerable means at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors and apparently secure means at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S3S4B), and (2) non-breeding populations are apparently secure, or at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S4N).




If you’re not already involved in iNaturalist I hope you’ll visit and see how easy it is to make observations and how valuable they can be. Even though a species is common in one region, it could be extinct or imperiled in others, which is why it's important to record observations, in all areas you visit. That "common" red-shouldered hawk you see, may in fact be threatened in the region. Interested in viewing my iNaturalist observations?  Once you’re on the website, search for my name, Carolyn Copper. I’m a monthly supporter of iNaturalist, helping to support its growth and the discovery of biodiversity.




Sources and More Information:

Talons Crossed: The Incredible Work of Rescuing Raptors

January 03, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I first heard the phrase “talons crossed”, on an Instagram post from Nancy McDonald -- a raptor rescuer located in Maryland – who is sometimes called the “Osprey Lady.”  Talons crossed – is a take on the expression “fingers crossed” -- something said when praying in our own way for a good outcome.  Raptors – hawks – owls – eagles – and ospreys have talons, not fingers, so that phrase, “talons crossed”, is a good fit. Nancy – an Army Veteran, and a former federal Aviation Security Investigator among those who helped shut down United States air space during the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. -- has probably said a lot of “talons crossed” over the years she’s been rescuing Hawks, Owls, Eagles, and Ospreys. In 2021 alone, she rescued 125 raptors and that’s double the number she rescued in 2020. She’s rescued them after they’ve been found hit by cars, hanging from trees caught in improperly discarded fishing line, laying injured on the ground after their nests were destroyed, and even after they’ve been shot. Yes, shot. 


I met Nancy in the summer of 2021 after I became a volunteer transporter for the injured raptors, she and another raptor rescuer -- Donna Cole -- were rescuing and trying to save.  Myself, and several dozen other volunteer transporters, drove these birds, part of the way or all of the way –sometimes well over a hundred miles round trip -- to the designated wildlife rehabilitation center that could help them, or humanely end their suffering.  I’m still helping transport these injured raptors today.


It takes courage, strength, skill, a calm mind and a big heart to save wildlife from suffering.  I’m excited to interview Nancy in my newest podcast and hear about her courageous and compassionate work to help save the lives of injured and orphaned raptors.  Listen now, and follow Nancy’s Instagram account @rescuingraptors to learn about this incredible work of rescuing raptors.


Here’s the questions Nancy answered:

  • Let’s start with the numbers.How many years have you been doing this (raptor rescue) and have you kept track of how many birds (raptors) you’ve rescued?


  • You live close to the Chesapeake Bay and you do some sailing.Did this have any influence on how you got started in raptor rescue – particularly Ospreys?


  • On your Instagram account you have a post mentioning your desire to write a book about your rescue stories.What rescues are the most memorable or important to talk about?


  • How do you coordinate with the permitted wildlife rehabilitation centers once you’ve rescued an injured raptor?


  • We haven’t yet come up with animal ambulances, but there is a volunteer transport group for the injured raptors. I’m in this group, and I have to say I was surprised at the number of raptors that needed transporting just since I became involved. There are of course peaks and valleys in transport needs, but this is great resourcefulness and ingenuity to solve the big challenge of getting these birds the help they need.How did the volunteer transport concept come about?


  • Can anyone just go out and capture and rescue an injured hawk, owl, eagle, or osprey?


  • You’ve had more than one occupation over the years –which I think is a great thing to showcase. Earlier in life you served with the Army and then went on to work for the federal government for over 23 years. And what really got my attention was information you shared in one of your Instagram posts about being one of the Federal Aviation Administration representatives who helped shut down US air space during the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US. I was living just a few miles from the Pentagon at that time. What can you tell us about that part of your work-life?


  • What else should we know about this (volunteer!) job of rescuing raptors?


Blog photo credit: Mary Hollinger


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Life is Better With Birds

December 15, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

It seems birds have always delighted people all over the world. They’re beautiful, powerful, engaging and make a lot of us very curious. Bird-watching or birding – the observing of birds either for fun, science applications, or other professional purposes, is an incredibly popular activity and it’s one of the fastest growing outdoor activities. It’s fair to say that dedicated wildlife photographers that include birds in their craft are also birders – me included. I’ve learned a lot from birders!


In my newest podcast I’m excited to talk with Jay Sheppard who had a career as an ornithologist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service; is a fellow in the American Ornithological Society; has birded in all 50 states; and more recently has been leading tours to observe short-eared owls on a Maryland property slated for commercial development.  That’s how I came to know Jay. 


Jay is certainly a birder, but he’s also a bird scientist and dedicated conservationist. In addition to his 23-year career with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, in retirement, Jay wrote a nearly 500-page life-study of the LeConte’s Thrasher – a bird found in the desert southwest. Jay’s study was published by the organization of Western Field Ornithologists, and can be purchased from them or it’s also available on Amazon. I’m excited to have Jay on the podcast today – listen in – to hear from someone who has dedicated his life to the study and conservation of birds and their habitats. He’s seen a lot and done a lot.


Here’s the questions Jay answered in my newest podcast.

  • You've been watching, studying, and following birds for decades, and you had a career focused on birds. What interests you most about birds?


  • You’ve been organizing short-eared owl tours at the Konterra, Maryland private property for a few years. I’ve been on these tours and loved it. I have a few questions about this.
    • First, how do you describe Konterra?
    • How did you discover Konterra, Maryland?
    • How many people have joined the Konterra tours?
    • Do you expect Konterra will be developed some day?
    • What makes the Konterra property good habitat for the birds and other wildlife that live and migrate there?
    • What can those of us who benefit from birding and bird photography do to support the Konterra habitat?


  • Do you have a favorite bird?


  • We’re coming into winter season. You have a helpful post on your Facebook page about laying down a tarp when it snows to create a bare patch of grass for birds. Can you describe this and why it’s helpful for birds, as well as birders?


  • You’ve birded in all 50 states and Canada which means you’ve seen some amazing bird life. What’s the most unusual or unexpected encounter you’ve had?


  • What tips would you give new birders?


  • What tips would you give seasoned birders?


Listen now on my podcast.


Sources and More Information:

The Power to Make Humans Feel Human, In an Inhuman World

November 10, 2021  •  1 Comment

The power to make humans feel human, in an inhuman world.  This Veteran’s Day I’m thinking about war, what war does to people, and how animals of almost every kind, and particularly horses, have helped many veterans, first responders, and others, manage the trauma and blunt emotion that often follows war.


Feeling HumanFeeling HumanWild Colonial Spanish Mustang - Outer Banks, NC


Just last week in Washington DC, the funeral of General Colin Powell was held at the Washington National Cathedral. I watched the funeral on TV. Watching and listening to the funeral reminded me of so many things because Colin Powell was at the height of his military and government career when I was early in my federal government career here in Washington, DC.


In that career, I had a position in the government where I was part of a project that performed clear-eyed oversight of military programs and activities. One of those activities was Operation Desert Storm (aka the Gulf War), a military campaign in the early 1990’s to expel Iraqi military forces from Kuwait. At the time, Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I learned a lot about the technical and strategic aspects of war during those years I worked on the Operation Desert Storm project. I also learned a lot about what war does to humans.  It’s an immeasurable gift that the quiet love and acceptance of animals can help heal very deep human wounds and trauma.


There are many terrific organizations that use horses to help heal and equip veterans for life after traumatic events and difficulties. I list a few below, along with other resources.


Sources and Information:


Spread Ideas That Work

October 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I was delighted to be thinking about my career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during my latest podcast where I speak with Katie Butler. While I was there, Katie wore a number of hats at the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and was a skilled and effective leader. Post-EPA, Katie recently launched a new business -- The GeoLiteracy Project LLC. The GeoLiteracy Project’s mission is:


“We help environmental leaders optimize their programs and maximize their results. We advise on the best science, strategy, and management techniques to help you save the Earth faster." 


If you’re managing or leading any business or organization that’s expected, or required, to show environmental results, head on over to the podcast. Here’s what I asked Katie to share with us.


  1. What led you to The GeoLiteracy Project?
  2. How do you define “geo-literate”?
  3. What should we know about the GeoLiteracy Project?
  4. How did your EPA work influence the GeoLiteracy Project?
  5. I know you’re a supporter of drone technology and the benefits it can provide. Drones are fun – and to my surprise -- bounce-back well from crashes (😊). Importantly, drone mapping and monitoring can provide highly valuable data and information.  What are your thoughts?
  6. You just launched your company a few months ago.Can you share any perspective on what your clients are striving for?
  7. I worked with you (Katie) for years on highly challenging, complex and difficult issues, and I know first-hand how confident clients should be in working with you. Anything else we should know about The GeoLiteracy Project?


Visit to learn more, get free tools and resources, or schedule a free consultation with Katie.


StillStillLake McDonald - Glacier National Park, Montana



It Takes All of Us

October 25, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

For me, one of the most difficult things about wildlife photography is probably not what you think. It’s not the technical skill, research required, strength, discipline, travel to many and varied places, or exhibiting and selling work that’s hardest. Of course, those things have challenges, and don’t come easy; but what I find most challenging is witnessing other photographers – professionals, amateurs, hobbyists -- and other outdoor enthusiasts -- engaging in what’s come to be understood as unethical wildlife photography.  This doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen; and even things that occur in small amounts can do serious harm.


Here’s what’s so challenging. We have a lot of people talking about unethical wildlife photography, including popular wildlife photographers and prominent organizations issuing very well-crafted and thought-out guidelines and policies on the dos and don’ts of wildlife photography. But we lack lucid, concrete, steps that we can take when we find ourselves right next to, or in the company of people engaging in unethical, or even dangerous behavior, while photographing wildlife. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently because in my region of the US, we’re heading into owl season, and put simply, owls are keenly sought after by wildlife photographers, birders, and other wildlife lovers. In the last couple of years, I’ve had several encounters with other wildlife photographers, birders, and others, who were either, (1) willfully ignoring and by-passing clear protections to prevent people from getting too close to nesting owls; or (2) were not aware of the potential consequences of creating noisy, crowded conditions while photographing wildlife.  


Great Horned OwletGreat Horned OwletVirginia


You might ask – Isn’t there a place where such unethical people and behaviors can be reported so these actions can be stopped and prevented?  Well, in most circumstances, there is no such place or authority. Except for the few people who report what they believe is unethical behavior on Facebook birding groups or other social media groups, there are essentially no consequences to humans who choose to intentionally or unintentionally engage in unethical, disruptive and harmful wildlife photography or wildlife watching.That’s a hard truth, and completely unjust to the wildlife we love.


One of the things I see a lot in discussions about unethical wildlife photographers is a recounting and social-media, or email sharing, of an ethics policy from an authoritative source that states and describes the wrongs of unethical photography. There are a few of these ethics policies out there, and I’m grateful to the organizations that have invested the time, resources, and thought into developing ethics policies. Since I belong to and follow a few birding groups, the ethics policy I often see distributed among birders is the American Birding Association (ABA) Code of Ethics. It has three main provisions along with clarifying points on each of these provisions. The guiding provisions are:


  1. Respect and promote birds and their environment.
  2. Respect and promote the birding community and its individual members.
  3. Respect and promote the law and the rights of others.


There are also a few guidelines for ethical wildlife photography. For example, Principles of Ethical Field Practices, by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Audubon’s Guide to Ethical Bird Photography and Videography.  NANPA’s guide emphasizes three ethical field practices, which align closely with ABA’s. A useful and important feature of NANPA’s ethics guide is its emphasis on photographers being knowledgeable and having knowledge and awareness of what they’re doing, where they’re going and others around them. For readability, I added “(have)” to each of the three NANPA principles below. 




Ethics policies and codes like these are essential, educational tools and resources that I believe make a difference. But what happens when you’re out in the field and you witness something unethical and inappropriate?  These real-world scenarios aren’t covered by any of the ethics policies or guidelines I’ve reviewed. Not everyone wants to be that person that tells a stranger, to their face, they’re doing something wrong.  In fact, many people avoid these kinds of situations because they don’t feel equipped to manage the situation effectively. There’s understandable fear and anxiety about these kinds of encounters with our fellow humans.  Alternatively, there are those that may speak up when they see an unethical photographer in action, but who may come off offensive and harsh because the only way they’ve been equipped to handle these situations is by reminding the offender that they’re “breaking rules.”  


In winter 2020-21, at the height of pandemic closures and staying-at-home in the United States, I had an encounter with a visitor who was among the thousands to visit the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland to get a glimpse of the male painted bunting that had shown up in our area. The visitor was standing along with me and many others who were waiting for the bunting to appear when she started using a bird sounds app on her phone. There were several others nearby who saw and heard what I did. The disappointed looks on their faces signaled that they might have believed this was wrong, but no one said a word.  Using bird call recordings isn’t permitted in National Parks because, according to the National Park Service, “mimicking animal sounds is considered harassment, which is illegal.” ( ).


Painted Bunting - MalePainted Bunting - Male


At that time, I didn’t know that bird calling apps and sounds weren’t permitted in National Parks. By the way, many or all of the National Wildlife Refuges also prohibit bird calling. But here’s what I did know -- bird calling, under those conditions, was potentially harmful to this male painted bunting. Birds have excellent hearing and when they hear what they think is another bird in the area it can raise alarms, cause them to flee the area, cause them to search out the bird, and generally cause them to use up valuable energy. Further, it was the middle of winter; it was cold, food was scarce and the painting bunting was hundreds of miles from its warmer, and normal, winter range. This rare vagrant painted bunting was already under stress from many factors, and using bird calls just so the visitor could get a photo, just wasn’t a good choice. I told the visitor that the bird calling app was likely to add to the bunting’s stress. The visitor appeared to ignore me, continued to play the app for a few more seconds, eventually turned it off and then left the area.  


What if I had known the National Park’s position and policy that bird calling sounds and apps are considered wildlife harassment and therefore illegal?  I could just have led with that and told this visitor they were a rule breaker – period – done -- I can now go back to what I was doing.  Alternatively, as advised by NANPA’s ethics guidelines I could: “Report inappropriate behavior to proper authorities. Don’t argue with those who don’t care; report them.”  Both of these options are not unreasonable, and importantly, there could be situations where these are the only or best options. But, reporting someone, or getting in their face to tell them they broke a rule aren’t the only options. Also, these approaches get in the way of one critical thing – educating others on the impact they’re having.  Many people actually don’t know that things like bird calling, feeding wild animals, or getting too close or being too loud has consequences and can harm wildlife.


This is where a communication technique called “Authority of the Resource (ART)” can be invaluable because it supports effective and respectful interactions. This technique is embedded in the  “Leave No Trace” conservation principles, which have been broadly adopted by US National Parks and other recreation or public land areas. 


ART was laid out in 1990 by Dr. George Wallace, a professor specializing in human dimensions of natural resources at Colorado State University. He believed those who cause impacts in natural areas do so because they’re (a) unskilled; (b) uninformed; (c) careless; or (d) unintentional. Dr. Wallace observed a variety of law enforcement rangers in the field. He noted that rangers who incorporated an educational message in their interactions were more likely to successfully influence a visitor’s outdoor ethic.


A first step in using ART is recognizing that people who visit wild places, go hiking, birding, or photographing wildlife, aren’t usually there to cause harm. Should harm occur though, if we can clearly explain the impact their actions had, the consequences of the impact, and help them understand the preferred alternative, we can be successful in peacefully and respectfully changing behavior.


There’s a good deal of information on the internet about ART and some organizations offer training. Search your favorite web browser with “Authority of the Resource.”  Below, I provided a 4-step summary of how an interaction could proceed; and I use the experience I described earlier, witnessing a birder using a bird calling app in a National Park. One recommendation is that when you start your conversation, stand shoulder-to-shoulder (vs. face-to-face) with the person you’re addressing.


1. Introduce yourself and take a moment for ice breaking conversation.

Example: Hi, I’m Carolyn. I’m here like so many others to photograph this amazing bird. Is this your first visit out to see the painted bunting?


2. Give an objective description of the undesirable behavior observed.

Example: I noticed you were playing bird calls that sound like a painted bunting.


3. Reveal/"interpret" the implications of the undesirable behavior.Focus on how the behavior impacts to the resource or the experience of others.

Example: This little bunting is really a survivor out here. There’s a lot of people out here, it’s cold, and food can’t be easy to find out here. Those things put a lot of stress on this little bird.  Playing bird sounds can actually add to that stress. These birds are always on alert. The bunting will pay attention to the call and might even fly out from where it’s trying to rest, stay warm, or find food.


4. Describe the desired behavior. Communicate appreciation for the resource and model desired behavior when possible. Describe agency norm when appropriate.

Example: I’m really excited to see this bunting too. We all want to see this bird make it out here and not make things harder for it. It just takes patience. I feel like I should also let you know that it’s actually illegal to use bird call recordings in National Parks. The National Park system considers it harassment. You can find that on their web site, along with other rules for visiting the Parks.



As we wildlife photographers, birders, nature lovers, and other outdoor enthusiasts head into owl season, it’s not a bad idea to anticipate that we might encounter a few cases of photographers, birders, and enthusiasts, at all levels of expertise and skill, engaging in behaviors that put our wildlife and birds at risk.  Before you head out, refresh your memory on the ART technique, imagine the scenarios where it might be used and practice how to intervene effectively. You’ll be doing something great for the wildlife we love so much. 


It takes all of us.



Sources and More Information:

If a butterfly lands on you it’s probably tasting you…. And more interesting truths.

August 04, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve never set out to intentionally photograph butterflies, but the places I travel to intentionally photograph other species and landscapes, at certain times of year, are often the same places I encounter amazing butterflies. Most of us learned something about butterflies during elementary school. We may even remember a bit about the astonishing lifecycle and transformation of butterflies. I remember some of what I learned about butterflies, but since I come across so many different butterflies doing all sorts of interesting behaviors – that I don’t remember learning about – I was curious to brush up on my butterfly facts. I’m glad I did.

Zebra Swallowtail ButterflyZebra Swallowtail Butterfly



Butterflies are beautiful and there’s a lot of them. There are about 28,000 butterfly species worldwide. Butterflies are found in all types of environments but most species are found in tropical areas, especially tropical rainforests. We should enjoy them while we can. With some exceptions, the average lifespan of an adult butterfly is roughly three to four weeks. Some butterflies, like the North American Monarch, can survive for nearly eight months. 


Monarch ButterflyMonarch Butterfly

Wings That Wow

One of the most eye-catching things about butterflies is their wings, and specifically, the color of their wings. Butterflies have scaled wings with colorful designs unique to each species. Those wings make butterflies good fliers. It’s a good thing that they’re good fliers because many species of butterflies migrate. Although butterfly migration isn’t well understood, some species like the Painted Lady, the Red Admiral, and the Common Buckeye are known to migrate a few hundred miles, but others like some Monarchs migrate thousands of miles. The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do.

Buckeye ButterflyBuckeye Butterfly


The fastest butterflies can fly at about 30 mph (about 48 km/h) or faster. Slow flying butterflies fly about 5 mph (about 8 km/h). It may look like butterflies have two wings but all butterflies have four wings – one forewing on each side closest to the head; and one hindwing on both sides in the rear.

Cloudless Sulphur ButterflyCloudless Sulphur Butterfly


Besides being eye-catching to us humans, butterfly wings also have an important optics function to other butterflies, and other species. The colors and patterns on a butterfly’s wings help it communicate and attract other butterflies of its species, and warn, camouflage, or distract it from predators. In the case of poisonous butterflies, like the Monarch, the wings store toxins. Just know that you would have to eat Monarchs to be exposed to the toxins. Hopefully no one you know is eating Monarch butterflies!!


Have you ever wondered what happens to butterflies when it rains?  How is it that they just don’t disintegrate or get completely destroyed in a summer downpour? Butterflies take shelter, or roost, in or under plants, trees, leaves or any other area including human-made structures where they can stay dry, warm, and hopefully away from predators. Taking shelter obviously goes a long way for protection but research shows that butterflies have a layer of wax on their wings that repels water. Not only that but they also have “microscale bumps” on their wings that serve to break up and disperse water droplets. In short, when a water drop hits the surface of butterfly wings, it ripples and spreads.


Butterflies are cold-blooded so that means their body temperature isn’t stable but changes with the environmental temperature. One main reason that we typically only see butterflies on warmer days is because they can fly as long as the air is between 60°-108° F (15.5 – 42.2 C), but temperatures between 82°-100° F (27.7 - 37.7 C) are best. If the temperature drops too low, butterflies might bask in a sunny spot with wings spread out to soak up the sun's heat.

American Snout ButterflyAmerican Snout Butterfly


Butterflies can’t survive winter conditions in an active state. But they may be able to survive cold weather by hibernating in protected locations. They may use the peeling bark of trees, plants, logs or old fences, or the eaves of houses or buildings as their overwintering sites. They may hibernate at any stage (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis or adult) but generally each species of butterfly is dormant in only one stage. With that said, If the weather begins changing some species migrate in search of sunshine.


Again, because they’re cold-blooded, when the outdoor temperature gets too warm, butterflies may head for shade or for cool areas like puddles. Some species will gather at shallow mud puddles or wet sandy areas, sipping mineral-rich water.


Silvery Checkerspot ButterflySilvery Checkerspot Butterfly


The Transformation

One butterfly fact I didn’t forget from my elementary school days is the metamorphosis of butterflies – the caterpillar (larva); the chrysalis (pupa); and then the butterfly (adult). Well, it’s a little more complicated. A butterfly starts its life as an egg, often laid on a leaf. The female butterfly attaches the eggs to leaves or stems of plants that will also serve as a suitable food source for the larvae (caterpillars) when they hatch. Caterpillars are very particular about what they eat, so the female lays her eggs only on certain plants. Caterpillars don't move much and may spend their entire lives on the same plant or even the same leaf, so it needs to be the right leaf!



The female butterfly can recognize the right plant species by its leaf color and shape. Just to be sure, she may beat on the leaf with her feet. This scratches the leaf surface, causing a characteristic plant odor to be released. Once she’s sure she found the correct plant species, she lays her eggs. The eggs get fertilized as they’re being laid with the sperm stored in the female’s body since mating. A sticky substance produced by the female enables the eggs to stick where ever she lays them, either on the underside of a leaf or on a stem. Male butterflies search for and pursue female mates.  As with many species, mating involves some courtship dances and cool maneuvers designed to win the attention of that special lady butterfly.


Passion - Gulf Frittilary Butterflies on Passion FlowerPassion - Gulf Frittilary Butterflies on Passion Flower

The larva (caterpillar) hatches from the laid egg and then eats almost constantly. This constant eating means the caterpillar increases up to several thousand times in size before pupating (turning into chrysalis); it also means the caterpillar molts (loses its old skin) many times as it’s growing. Molting occurs because the outer skin (exoskeleton) doesn’t grow as the caterpillar enlarges and grows. A caterpillar may go through as many as four to five molts before it becomes a pupa.


When the eating is done, it’s time to rest and turn into a pupa (chrysalis). The caterpillar attaches itself to a twig, a wall or some other support and the exoskeleton splits open to reveal the chrysalis. The chrysalis hangs down like a small sack until the transformation to butterfly is complete. Although the chrysalis is motionless during this resting phase, this is where the caterpillar's structure is broken down and rearranged into the wings, body and legs of the adult butterfly. WHAATT??? I’ve been underestimating caterpillars and leafy greens. 😊 Depending on the species, the chrysalis stage may last for a few days or a year or more. Many butterfly species overwinter or hibernate as a chrysalis.


The fourth and final stage of the metamorphosis of butterflies is becoming an adult. Once the chrysalis casing splits, the butterfly emerges. It will quickly go on to find food, locate a mate, and lay eggs to begin the cycle all over again.


Most butterflies live on nectar from flowers. Some butterflies sip the liquid from rotting fruits and a rare few prefer rotting animal flesh or animal fluids, including fluid found in animal droppings. Butterflies drink through a tube-like tongue called a proboscis. The proboscis uncoils to sip, and then coils up again when the butterfly isn’t feeding. The butterfly proboscis doesn’t have taste buds or similar sensors to determine taste. Instead, those sensors are located on the back of the butterfly’s legs. So, yes, one of the coolest facts about butterflies is that they use their feet to taste. If they land on you, they’re probably tasting you. 

Yellow Tiger SwallowtailYellow Tiger Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail ButterflySpicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


Attracting Butterflies

There’s many useful, free, resources that identifies steps for attracting butterflies and other pollinators to your yard. These may help, or do a search on your web browser of choice!


Sources and Other Information

Artist, Entrepreneur, Creator

June 17, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

When I first started doing art shows and festivals, I remember being struck by the sense of community and friendship among the artists, entrepreneurs, crafters and creators at these shows. In the few free minutes before, during, or after shows I try to meet as many of my artist neighbors as possible. They’re painters, wood and metal artists, fiber artists and designers, ceramic and jewelry artists, photographers like me, and more. Every artist has a story. Some have been artists and creators their entire lives while others started as a second or third career, or just a hobby. Except for a 16-month pause due to pandemic closures, I’ve been doing art shows for almost 3 years now, and I always come away learning something new and feeling so compelled to share these intriguing and inspiring accounts of artist life that I see.  


At a recent art show –actually the first for me in the post-pandemic period – my art booth was next to entrepreneur clothing designer and manufacturer Heidi Hess (and her sweet pup Henri!). Among so many things I learned about Heidi is that although she now runs an independent fashion label, she was once an On Air Radio Personality in every major market, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami.  Heidi calls this her “Life 1”. I asked Heidi to join my podcast and share her story of how she got started with Life 1, Life 2, and if there might be a Life 3.  Blog readers -- head over to the podcast for more!

What Goes Up Will Come Down – Know the Facts and Laws About Balloon Releases

May 22, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

There’s a place in Maryland where I sometimes go to photograph. It’s a stunning and large public garden, meticulously cared for, visited, and appreciated by many.  Along with its beauty, I regularly see balloons and string caught up in the trees around this picture-perfect place. I was even surprised one day last spring when I witnessed a small group releasing several plain, white, Mylar balloons at the garden. The tears in their eyes told me they may have been memorializing a loved one.  Death and loss are sad, but my heart also ached when I thought about the litter they released and the potential harm to birds and other animals their actions created.  


Why Are We Still Littering with Balloons?

Every once in a while, a single balloon accidentally gets loose. A child gets distracted, loses their grip, or a single balloon somehow escapes from a party. That’s a different issue than the intentional balloon releases that have been happening for years. These intentional releases are often done as part of fundraisers, sporting events, weddings, graduations, other ceremonies, birthdays and to recognize the death of a loved one. Some people see balloon releases as having religious or spiritual significance. And there are businesses that actively promote, and sell, balloon releases ( One business refers to balloon releases as a “growing trend”, stating, “Releases are normally done at the end of the service to symbolize letting go of the loved one and letting the grieving process begin. …As the balloons are slowly drifting upward it leaves all involved with a peace and a memory that will last a lifetime.”  Those can be powerful words and promises when people are emotionally vulnerable and grieving.


Putting the Brakes on Balloon Releases: Know the Facts and Laws

Balloon releases have started to lose their popularity and acceptance. There are well-documented harms caused by balloon debris, including death and serious injuries to wildlife as well as the unnecessary litter they produce. There have been debates about the extent of damage from balloons, and what kinds of balloons are most harmful; for example – helium vs. latex vs. Mylar; and balloons with and without strings. Some businesses have caught on to the declining acceptance of balloon releases and now sell, manufacture or promote balloons labeled as compostable or biodegradable. The valid question about those products is how long and under what environmental conditions do they degrade?  For example, do they degrade when they land in open bodies of water, or do they float forever, and never degrade, risking injury or death to sea life? The same question needs to be asked when balloons labeled biodegradable land, on land, – how long does it take for them to degrade?


Some of the injuries and other damage that’s occurred because of balloon releases is staggering.


  • A balloon release in 1986 by the charity United Way Services of Cleveland, in Ohio was a fund-raising attempt to break the world record for the number of balloons in a single release. One-and-a-half million balloons were released. However, an approaching weather front caused them to return to earth, covering the city in balloons, causing cars to crash, and hindering a coast guard rescue mission. It contributed to the deaths of two sailors on Lake Erie (the wife of one victim sued the organizers, and settled out-of-court), resulted in injuries to horses, and caused traffic accidents. A runway at Burke Lakefront Airport had to be closed. The Guinness Book of Records no longer accepts balloon release records. (


  • In 2017, a horse in the United Kingdom was killed when a pink helium balloon with a string dropped into the field where the horse swallowed it and began choking. In a panic, the horse bolted across the field and through two gates breaking two legs and her neck.





Change has happened as more of us are educated about the long-lasting effects of balloons. Today, there are several non-profits and other organizations that actively work to educate on the risks from balloon releases and the alternatives available. In addition, the reality that’s emerged from the debates and analysis on the risks of balloon releases has led to a number of state-wide, or locality-based balloon release bans, with legislation pending in others. The U.S. states with balloon release bans include, California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia (see, The Maryland state legislature has passed balloon ban legislation which is currently waiting for the Governor’s signature. There are also several localities (towns, townships, counties, etc…) that passed balloon release bans. Visit for a complete list and other excellent resources.



Intentional Balloon Releases are Completely Preventable

Education and facts about the impacts of balloon releases has led to their declining popularity and acceptance.  Even in locations without legal bans, balloon releases have been cancelled or simply not considered based on the facts and knowledge that they’re short-lived feel-good moments, that are also grand-scale littering events.


The non-profit organization, “Balloons Blow,” maintains a list of “Balloon releases averted” ( This list describes actions that the organization has taken, or others have taken, to cancel and avert an intentional balloon release. Here’s a few cases from their website I’d like to highlight:


  • July 2018 - After 35+ years of releasing tens of thousands of balloons at every home football game, Clemson University has finally agreed to end the destructive tradition. Seven years of mass littering alerts, pleading, emails, phone calls, Facebook posts & tweets.  We’re so glad the Clemson football season will no longer include this mass littering event. Much respect to all who spoke up over the years!” (See,


  • “January 20, 2017 – Colorado – Balloon releases were planned today at 16 high schools in Jefferson County Colorado for a Day Without Hate event to promote unity. Thankfully, once they learned that their so-called “biodegradable” latex balloons would still become deadly litter in the environment, they altered the event. Much respect to all at Jeffco Public Schools ~ Colorado for altering plans within hours of the event. We are thankful for all those who added their voice. They have come up with some great alternatives... a mass bubble blowing... “bubbles to release your troubles”, & lining the hallways with positive messages.”


  • “January 23, 2017 – West Virginia – The Relay for Life of West Virginia University had planned a balloon release at their event today. Just being alerted last night, we had no time to spare. We posted a polite comment on their Facebook page & sent an email. Within minutes we received a positive reply.”


  • “March 31, 2017 – Illinois – The Montessori Children’s Centre had planned to release balloons for their 20th year celebration. At first, the false marketing of the balloon industry had them believing latex balloons are biodegradable & eco-friendly. Thankfully, our friend Amanda was not afraid to speak up. She sent a polite informative note, warning them of the greenwashing of latex balloons. We sent them a follow-up email & they confirmed no balloons would be released. Much respect to Amanda for taking action & to the school for quickly altering their plans!”


Alternatives to Releasing Balloons

We can avoid the dark side of balloon releases and find easy alternatives that are also safer.  The first alternative is do nothing – yes, nothing. A life with less stuff does not mean a lesser life. Balloon releases, and their alternatives, are not essential for human life.  With that said, there are alternatives to balloon releases that are less harmful to the environment we all share.  See a few alternatives below, and for more on this topic, visit


  • Plant in remembrance – Plant native flowers or a tree to remember, honor, or celebrate.
  • Build and Install a Bird House – Create a structure for new life.
  • Lighting Candles & Luminaries – On the anniversary of the passing or the birthday of new life, light a candle to remember a loved one.
  • Blowing Bubbles – Blowing bubbles is always fun. Imagine a countless number of bubbles floating away into the sky with a piece of every person that was gathered together.
  • Mass Gathering – Having people come together to create a shape, word, or image can be very unifying and beautiful. Aerial photograph the gathering and share.
  • Sponsor a Bench – Have a sitting bench installed at a park or natural area with the name or organization you wish to honor.
  • Write a message on seed paper and plant it – Seed paper is a kind of paper you can buy or make that’s embedded with seeds. The seeds grow once it’s placed on soil and kept watered. It might have native wildflower seeds, or vegetables, or herbs. Friends and family can write their messages to the deceased on the seed paper. Here’s a recipe for making seed paper, .


Sources and Additional Information:

North American River Otter - Conservation Success Story

March 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

They’re cute, entertaining, charming, and smart. Beyond the species conservation mission, another reason many zoos may keep Otters is because they’re fun to watch and people flock to see them. I was very excited to have a few wild Otter encounters in 2020 and 2021 and wanted to know more about these charming, semi-aquatic mammals. For starters, like so many wild animals, Otter life has not been easy and has its hardships. By the early 20th century, River Otters had been driven nearly to extinction by over-trapping, habitat loss, and water pollution. They disappeared from much of their North American range. However, as habitat conditions have improved over the past several decades, and because of the success of several state reintroduction programs, river Otters are making a comeback.



In March 2021 I was very excited and surprised to encounter a few North American River Otters in a remote lake in West Virginia -- a state where they can still be legally hunted. I observed a pair of Otters engaged in early spring mating. I would never have known the Otters were in this location, except for the constant “duck-like” sound I was hearing off in the distance. River Otters have a mix of vocalizations, ranging from whistles and buzzes to twitters, staccato chuckles, chirps and growls. When threatened or frightened, they emit a scream that can be heard up to 1.5 miles (2.4 km) across the water. After hearing this “duck-like” sound for about 10 minutes straight, I got my binoculars out and could see brown “things” moving about in the water. I viewed through the binoculars for a while and eventually one head appeared above water and I could see it was an Otter. Later in the morning, in a different part of the lake, I photographed another Otter (certainly could have been one from earlier that morning) who spent some time marking his scent -- an important way Otters communicate their presence and status. Otters were once extinct in West Virginia. As part of a reintroduction program, from 1984 to 1997, over 200 otters were released in 14 major rivers across West Virginia. Since then, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has determined that the Otter populations are high enough that a trapping season was initiated in 2011 with a limit of one Otter per year.

Conservation SuccessConservation SuccessNorth American River Otter, West Virginia


The name River Otter is a little misinforming. River Otters are not just found in rivers but also lakes, wetlands and ponds if the water quality is good and there's a food supply. In fact, River Otters are an indicator species for water quality and healthy wildlife habitats. Basically, they’ll live wherever they can find food and water to swim in, but they’re sensitive to pollution so they won’t inhabit polluted waterways. Today, North American River Otters live along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, and most of Canada and Alaska. They often live in the same areas as beavers.



In late 2020 I was also fortunate to see wild River Otters in the marshes and wetlands of Huntley Meadows in Northern Virginia. Once word got out that River Otters were in this location, dozens of photographers and hundreds of visitors flocked to this location and enjoyed a few weeks of observing River Otters very close up, in the early part of the day. These Otters eventually moved on or changed their habits because they’ve not been seen at Huntley Meadows since Jan-Feb 2021. North American River Otters prefer minimal human disturbance, and when people are around, they’ll move on or come out only at night or very early in the morning.


Whiz KidWhiz KidNorth American River Otter Whiz KidWhiz KidNorth American River Otter


River Otters are sometimes called "seadogs" which is understandable because they have canines like a dog, clawed (and webbed) feet, and long whiskers which they use to detect prey underwater. Adult river otters weigh 10 to 33 pounds (4.5 to 15 kilograms) and are about 2.5 to 5 feet (76 to 152 centimeters) in length. Females are roughly one-third the size of males. They can seal their nostrils shut while underwater and can hold their breath for up to eight minutes. They eat fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, invertebrates, snakes, birds, carrion, and occasionally small mammals or birds. Alligators, bobcats, and coyotes all prey on River Otters. River Otters spend a good deal of time on land, and they travel over land, so they become vulnerable to land dwelling carnivores. A North American River Otter's home range can be as large as 30 square miles (78 square km), but a typical territory is 3 to 15 square miles (4.8 to 24 square km). That range shrinks drastically during breeding and rearing season.



While River Otters tend to live alone or in pairs, they socialize in groups and are known for playful behavior. Male and female Otters come together briefly in early spring to mate. Because River Otters experience delayed implantation (meaning that the fertilized egg does not implant in the uterine wall immediately), a female River Otter will be technically pregnant for about a year even though gestation lasts only 5 to 7 weeks. Females give birth to three or four pups at a time, usually between April and May. The young are born blind, toothless and completely helpless, weighing about 4 to 6 ounces (113 to 170 grams) and measuring 8 to 11 inches (20 to 28 centimeters). The male Otter is generally chased away until the young are weaned and old enough to leave their den, which happens about 3 months after birth. After that, the males may return and help raise the pups. Otters remain as a family unit for seven to eight months or until the birth of a new litter. Otters reach sexual maturity at 2 to 3 years of age. If an Otter survives the critical first year of life, it may live to the age of 12, with some surviving longer. The oldest living river otter on record was 27 years old.


Sources and Information:

A New Brand Of Duck Hunter

February 12, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

In many parts of North America that experience cold winters, the wildlife landscape changes particularly when it comes to birdlife. Many birds migrate to and reside in warmer climates during fall and winter. However, depending on your location, ducks are one kind of bird that may be seen in greater numbers during winter. I live in an area that’s surrounded by large water bodies, including the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay, and other lakes and ponds and that provide excellent habitat for ducks. My area is in the “Atlantic Flyway,” a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in North America. The route generally starts in Greenland, and follows the Atlantic coast of Canada and the United States, all the way south to the tropical areas of South America and the Caribbean. Every year migratory birds travel up and down this route to their overwintering sites, breeding grounds, and in search of food and protection as the seasons change. Audubon describes the Atlantic Flyway as encompassing “some of the hemisphere’s most productive ecosystems, including forests, beaches, and coastal wetland.”  Just like small birds and raptors, many ducks migrate along the Atlantic Flyway and many species overwinter in my area. In today’s blog I’m spotlighting a few of the beautiful and unusual ducks that I’ve photographed.



Ducks are underappreciated birds. If you search #ducks on Instagram you’ll see as many photos of ducks shot by hunters, duck jewelry, duck decoys, or commonly seen ducks, like mallards, rather than a representation of the beautiful variety of duck species out there. Of course, Instagram is far from the gold standard in wildlife information. In addition, ducks are not necessarily easy to locate or photograph. With a license, most ducks can be hunted during designated seasons, so with a few exceptions, ducks have learned to avoid humans.



There are three things that I find most interesting about ducks: 1) the distances some of them migrate; 2) their nesting behavior; and 3) the diversity of colors and patterns among ducks – and primarily male ducks -- because many female ducks are varying shades of brown.



This Long-tailed duck (non-breeding male) I photographed in February (2021), breeds in the Artic and is spending at least some part of the winter in the relative warmth of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.  In the fall they leave their Artic homes and migrate west or east. The population that migrates eastward, overwinters in large water bodies like the Great Lakes and the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay. I imagine he thought that the 30-degree day I took this photograph was “balmy.” Long-tailed ducks,  which get their name from the male’s long tail feathers, are considered “sea ducks” because when they’re seen, it’s usually out on open ocean or large lakes. Long-tailed ducks are often the most abundant bird in the high Arctic and are capable of diving as deep as 200 feet (61 m). 


Long-tail Duck - Immature MaleLong-tail Duck - Immature MaleChesapeake Bay, Maryland


The Surf Scoter is another sea duck that I photographed in the Chesapeake Bay this winter. The Surf Scoter has very interesting colors and patterns on their beak. The first time I photographed a Surf Scoter I didn’t know what I was looking at. I was standing on a beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, when I observed a couple of birds floating way out on the water. I first thought I was seeing pelicans or seagulls. It wasn’t until I looked through my lens, and then did some follow-up research, that I realized I was seeing a Surf Scoter. That experience was a good reminder to always look through binoculars, a scope, or your telephoto lens because what looks like something “common” off in the distance may not be.  Surf Scoter’s breed in far northern Canada and Alaska and then migrate and winter all along the US Atlantic coast, and other warmer locations.


Surf Scoter - MaleSurf Scoter - MaleChesapeake Bay Maryland


One of the most interesting things I first learned about ducks is that some species nest in tree cavities. Wood ducks, buffleheads, common mergansers, and hooded mergansers, and a few other species nest in tree cavities. Nesting in tree cavities offers protection from the elements and predators. However, the ducks don’t create their tree cavity nests, rather, they’ll occupy cavities created by other birds, including woodpeckers, and cavities that have naturally evolved. These same duck species that nest in tree cavities may also use human-built nest boxes placed along the edge of a water body or wetland. You might ask – how old are ducklings when they fly out of these tree cavity nests?  In the case of wood ducklings and merganser ducklings they leave the nest 24 hours after hatching. Moreover, there’s no flying from the nest – they jump out -- and if all goes well with the jump, they follow their mother (hen) as she guides them to the nearest water. Just after hatching, a hen may lead her ducklings up to a half mile or more over land to find a suitable water source for swimming and feeding. As you might imaging jumping out of the nest and then traveling over land when you’re a day old means not all ducklings survive. Tree cavity nests can be quite high off the ground and may not be very close to water. With that said, if your timing is right and you’ve spotted a duck nest in a tree cavity, you might capture some stunning photographs of ducklings making their first entrance into the world. A couple of my favorite images of wood ducks, common and hooded mergansers and bufflehead ducks, all tree cavity nesters, follow.


Bufflehead - MaleBufflehead - MaleChesapeake Bay, Maryland Male Wood DuckMale Wood DuckRock Creek Park, Washington DC

Common Merganser - MaleCommon Merganser - Male



Other duck species, including the canvasbacks, ruddy ducks, greater scaup, ring-necked ducks, redheads, and occasionally mallards, make their nests over water on “rafts” of floating vegetation. This strategy provides a measure of protection from land-based predators, like racoons, coyotes, foxes, or and even cats and dogs. A little spotlight on the Canvasback -- which is sometimes called "King Can" because of their aristocratic profile, but also because they’re the largest species of diving duck in North America. Canvasbacks are one of the fastest flying ducks in North America, capable of flying at least 60 mph (96 km/h). Like many ducks, Canvasbacks nest in very northern parts of the US and Canada, and migrate to warmer locations for winter. I live near one of the three US regions that the Canvasback overwinters – the Chesapeake Bay – and where the fetching chap’s photo below was taken last week. ️The two other US regions where Canvasbacks are known to overwinter is along the Pacific coast and in coastal Louisiana. Canvasbacks are heavily dependent on healthy watersheds and wetlands because they spend nearly all their time in the water. I love this quote about the King Can --- “May we always have the opportunity to meet these legendary birds up close and personal! This shall be so only if we look after the wetlands that sustain canvasbacks across our continent. Like a flight of cans arrowing through an autumn sky, our course is clear. Let us not fail the birds, or future generations, in our resolve.”  Images of the beautiful canvasback duck, greater scaup and lesser scaup follow.


Canvasback - MaleCanvasback - MaleChesapeake Bay Maryland Lesser Scaup - MaleLesser Scaup - MaleChesapeake Bay Maryland


From a distance if you see a Northern Shoveler you might mistake it for a Mallard because they both have beautiful green heads. But a close look will reveal a big difference which is the shape and length of a Shoveler’s beak -- that’s where they get their name. Northern Shoveler’s have a large spoon-shaped bill with comb-like projections on the sides that they use to forage and filter out tiny crustaceans and seeds from the water. Northern Shovelers are ground nesting ducks as are Northern Pintails and Mallards.


Northern Pintails are considered to be widespread, though I’ve never seen them in large numbers, and each one I photograph is special. During their summer breeding season, the Pintail ranges from Alaska through Canada and into the Great Plains of the US. During the winter, it may be found in southern Alaska, nearly all regions of the interior US and all along the Atlantic Coast. This Pintail was photographed in a Virginia wetland during winter. Waterfowl management experts and advocates have concerns about declining Pintail populations. One factor in their decline is the destruction or alteration of the Prairie Pothole Region. This Region includes five upper Midwest US states (Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Montana), and three Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta). Increased agricultural and commercial development in the Prairie Pothole Region has degraded or destroyed breeding and feeding grounds for Northern Pintails and many other North America migratory waterfowl. The US Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Region are No. 1 on the 25 most important and threatened waterfowl habitats on the continent.


Images of the Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Mallards follow.


Northern Shoveler - MaleNorthern Shoveler - MaleNorthern Virginia Male Pintail DuckMale Pintail Duck Male Mallard DuckMale Mallard Duck Profile of a MomProfile of a MomNorthern Virginia



Life is not easy as a duck. Those that make it are true survivors. Why is duck life hard? First, in most cases, within 24 hours of making their appearance into the world, ducks are essentially on their own, yet they can’t fly and are nearly defenseless. Second, humans can still legally hunt ducks, duck hunting is still incentivized as a conservation tool, and duck hunting remains somewhat popular. Financial support from duck and goose hunters has been a foundation of wetlands conservation ever since the federal duck stamp was first issued in 1934. Waterfowlers have contributed billions of dollars to wildlife management by purchasing duck stamps and hunting licenses, paying excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act). And, a third reason duck life is hard is that humans have gotten into some bad, even if well-intentioned behavior, of feeding ducks unhealthy things like bread. Much has been written about this, leading some to call bread “the ultimate junk food for birds”.  Bread is NOT for birds. See below for more information.  Last, and not least, healthy wetlands, marshes and water, the natural habitats of ducks, are constantly under pressure from human development, encroachment, and pollution.



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Our Responsibility to Work Toward A #betternormal - Taming the Monster in Our Closet

January 13, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

The pandemic of 2020 irrevocably changed our country and the world. It’s revealed ways we must change. The pandemic response laid bare the truth that we live in an unsustainable world. If nature was allowed to take its course during the pandemic; without shutdowns, closures, masks and social distancing, individuals, families, and health care systems would have been completely overwhelmed, unable to respond, and hundreds of thousands more would likely have died. While the pandemic showed that we live in an unsustainable world, it also showed the power of human resilience, innovation, ability to adapt and adjust our course, and that we are extraordinary problem solvers.  That’s the theme for today – working toward a #betternormal with the power of human resilience, innovation, ability to adapt and adjust our course, and apply our extraordinary problem-solving skills.


We badly need a #betternormal in our consumption habits. How many of us know when we need to go on a diet or kick-up our exercise routine?  Once our clothes no longer fit, or our medical tests reveal new health risks, or we just start to see and feel changes that aren’t working for us, we know change is needed. However, unlike weight gain, not everything that needs changing is easily seen. Our consumption habits -- specifically -- how much clothing we purchase is one of these. We’re badly in need of a #betternormal concerning our clothing consumption. Many of us have no idea how unsustainable our clothing consumption habits are.


Did you know?

  • The consumption of clothing (and footwear) creates one of the biggest injuries to the planet, because most clothing is thrown away and ends up in landfills.


  • Recent numbers show that in the United States, 70% of clothing (and footwear) was thrown away in landfills. That percentage is probably understated, because it doesn’t reflect clothes and fabric thrown away by the fashion industry before it gets to us consumers.


  • The volume of clothing thrown away in the United States each year has doubled in the last 20 years, from 7 million to 14 million tons.


  • The “Fast Fashion” model of some retailers is pushing out cheaper clothing, of lower quality, at very high rates, which contributes to the practice of buying and throwing away more clothing, continually adding burden to landfills and landfill space.


  • The textile and clothing manufacturing process itself contributes to environmental degradation due to the amount of water needed in textile manufacturing, pesticides used to grow fabric materials (e.g., cotton), and other chemicals (nitrous oxide) used to produce nylon and polyester.



What You Can Do for A #betternormal


  • Reduce Your Clothing Consumption-- Go on a clothes diet, and like any good diet, stick with it forever. Buy less; only buy when you really need it; and when you buy, look for retailers that sell recycled or previously worn clothing, like Patagonia’s Worn Wear, or ThredUp (read more next!)


  • Buy Reused Clothing or Sell or Donate Your Used Clothing – Shop previously owned clothing. There are more options than ever to buy previously owned clothing and to also donate or sell the clothing that you no longer want or need. Spending just a few minutes on the internet to research your options could be a bonus payoff for you and the environment. You can shop at your local Goodwill or consignment shop. ThredUp is another on-line consignment and thrift shop with a huge selection of previously owned clothing. They have Gap to Gucci, including Lululemon, Anthropologie, Madewell and more. There’s also the earlier mentioned Patagonia’s Worn Wear program; Eileen Fischer also has a clothes buyback and resale program; Arc’teryx has a buyback and resale program; and others, including REI, are getting on board with this approach. Buying and selling used clothing, vs. new, can make a big difference.  We do it with cars and now many ethically-minded retailers are finding ways to do it with clothes.


  • Think Out of the Box -- Recycle or Repurpose the Clothes You Can’t Sell or Donate – Get creative. If you can’t resell or donate your clothes, recycle your clothes into something else instead of throwing them away. Old shirts, denim, and other clothing fabrics can be turned into functional or beautiful pieces. If you have an old shirt you love but no longer wear, think about making it into a decorative pillow cover, re-upholstering a chair, making cloth placements and napkins, or making a custom fabric wall hanging. Are you a crafter or know a crafter that uses a lot of plastic-based ribbon?  Try a craft project using worn clothing or fabric scraps. Have a pair of well-worn jeans that are falling apart? You can turn them into a braided basket. There are other great on-line tutorials showing creative ways to give your clothing new life. Last, and no way least, don’t underestimate the value of turning your well-worn old clothes into rags. Anything can be a rag, and you’ll always need them. Rags can replace paper towels, which saves trees, and is a great win for the environment.



A lot of us may buy clothes only when we really need to. That's a habit to keep. But many others of us buy on a whim, impulse, out of boredom, the need for a "pick me up", because the sale was just too good to pass up, or because “it’s just SO cute.” Those habits have caught up with us and have created massive stress on the environment because most clothes end up in landfills. Natural resources are expended and polluted in the process of bringing us those 4 for $10 t-shirts that never get worn, or worn once and then get trashed. In the United States, we’re free to shop where we want and how much we want based on our own personal decisions. That freedom also comes with responsibility and opportunity to shop sustainably with an outlook on the well-being of our shared environment and its future.


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American Robin - Eating Like A Bird

January 08, 2021  •  Leave a Comment


Eating Like A Bird in winter. Robins are one bird you won’t normally see on a seed feeder. In the warmer seasons, they’re primarily eating worms and insects. In the colder seasons, they’re primarily eating berries. Many of us are pretty familiar with Robins because they’re widespread in North America. They frequent urban areas, backyards, as well as wild areas. Some Robins that breed in Canada come south to the United States for winter while other Robins go as far as Mexico for winter. We don’t always know or get to experience how intelligent birds are, but I have a Robin story to illustrate this. While I was watering our vegetable garden one summer morning, a female Robin hopped up on the garden fence and perched and watched me. She was about 4 feet away and just watched me. I've never seen that. After I finished watering one part of the garden, I moved down with my hose to a new part. As I did that, the Robin flew down to the area that was watered and, using only her beak, started to collect as much of the now muddy, damp soil as she could. She flew off and a few minutes later came back for more. I didn't see where she went, but I'm pretty certain she was collecting material for her nest. Robins use mud to reinforce the sticks and other material they construct their nests with.


What most impressed me is that the Robin showed up just as I turned the water on. It seemed she recognized, and had learned the sound of the water and what that would mean for where it was going. How much I wished I had a video of that smart Robin mom! Speaking of water, Robins also love a good bath. If you put clean bird baths out, they’ll be one of the first to bathe or drink, and they’ll come back often.


Because Robins forage a lot on lawns, they’re vulnerable to pesticide poisoning from lawn applied pesticides.


This is the final episode in my Eating Like A Bird series!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this series; and it’s given you some new information, perspective, or inspiration about our many feathered friends.


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Raptors - Eating Like A Bird

January 05, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

It may not be pretty, but it’s ok, its baby food. The three raptors shown here all had young in the nest, or fledglings that just left the nest, and were delivering or feeding food to their young babies. The Eating Like A Bird series, now enters the apex of the bird world -- raptors! Raptors, including owls, hawks, and osprey are birds of prey that feed on live caught prey, and sometimes dead animals. Three things set raptors apart from all other birds, (1) strong grasping feet with sharp talons used to seize prey; (2) a hooked beak used to kill and rip prey apart and, (3) typically a meat-only diet (some hawks and falcons are known to eat insects). Scroll through -- Photo 1 is a Barred Owl photographed in Virginia after it captured a live snake; photo 2 is an Osprey parent delivering fresh caught fish to its young, and its mate, photographed in North Carolina, and photo 3 is a Red Shouldered Hawk parent feeding a small animal to its young, photographed in Washington, DC.  Yeah, I’m not a fan of watching anything be eaten alive, but raising babies happens in nature too. Some of the hazards these adult and young raptors face in their lifetimes include pollutants in fish and fishing waters, chemically-poisoned prey, habitat loss, and other human-caused actions including vehicle collisions and gunshots.


Here’s a few facts about Barred Owls and Osprey. See my extensive blog on Red-shouldered Hawks for lots of facts about them,  Barred  Owls are native to North America and fairly widespread. Like many raptors, Barred Owls have exceptional vision and hearing, and are widely successful at catching prey. Although owls are skilled nighttime hunters, they also hunt in the day. Barred Owls have traits that help them be successful night hunters. First, they have very large eyes. Owl eyes can be as much as 3% of their body weight. Not only are Barred Owl eyes very large, they’re also forward facing and provide “binocular” vision which provides better depth perception to detect prey. Larger eyes also capture more light at night, allowing for better night vision. Second, although Barred Owls can’t move their eyes in the socket (like humans can), they can turn their heads around 270 degrees in both directions, giving them great field of view.


Barred Owls preferred habitat is old deciduous and coniferous forests close to swamps or marshes. They nest in empty tree cavities or in the abandoned nests of other birds. Their nests are usually lined with a layer of soft feathers. Barred Owls don’t migrate and they usually don’t venture beyond their territory unless food is scarce. In its lifetime, Barred Owls may move no more than 6 miles from its original location. It’s becoming more usual to see Barred Owls living near or in urban and residential areas. This could be due to easier availability of squirrels, rabbits and other rodents, such as mice and rats. The Barred Owl gets its name from the bars of white and brown colors on its body. It has brown eyes, unlike the yellow or orange eyes of other owl species, including Snowy, Great Gray, and Great Horned Owls.


Osprey are hawks that feed primarily on fish which they catch from the water using their long, hooked talons. Ospreys live on every continent except Antarctica and they have a very similar appearance regardless of where they live. Most Ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the north and migrate south for the winter, but not all populations don’t migrate. It’s really something to watch an Osprey hunt and catch fish. An Osprey can plunge so forcefully into the water that it completely submerges. With that said, Osprey can only dive about three feet below the water's surface so they gravitate toward shallow fishing grounds, going into deep water only where schools of fish are near the surface. When carrying prey back to the nest, Osprey will arrange a fish so that’s its facing upright, head forward. Occasionally, an Osprey will catch and eat a snake, eel, or even a frog. Ospreys require nest sites in open surroundings for easy approach, with a wide, sturdy base and safety from ground predators. Nests are usually built on snags (dead trees), treetops, or forks between large branches and trunks; on cliffs or human-built platforms. Osprey differ in several respects from other diurnal birds of prey (raptors that hunt during day). Specifically, its toes are of equal length, its tarsi are reticulate, and its talons are rounded, rather than grooved. Osprey and Owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish. Osprey also have two other adaptations for their environment: (1) they can close their nostrils to prevent water going in when they dive for fish, and (2) they have dark bands around their eyes, which help reduce the sun’s glare when they scan the water for fish.  


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